By Karen Sampson
Lexington Symphony’s 2014–2015 season has been a milestone year. Not only has it been the 20th consecutive year of operation for this successful nonprofit professional orchestra, but it has also marked the 10th anniversary for the organization’s Music Director, Jonathan McPhee.
A leading musical figure in New England, McPhee officially joined Lexington Symphony in 2005, after he guest conducted for the orchestra during its conductor search. “I originally came to Lexington Symphony (which was then Lexington Sinfonietta) because of the people in the orchestra. I had guest conducted for them, and there was an intensity — and a true love for making music — that came through. That kind of joy is infectious.”
During the past decade, McPhee has strived to maintain the player-centered spirit of the orchestra while also acting as a catalyst for tremendous organizational and artistic growth. His tireless focus and his penchant for challenging classical music audiences with innovative programming have helped the organization to flourish. “When we moved to Cary Hall [from the National Heritage Museum] in 2005, the entire organization blossomed,” recounts McPhee. “What resonated with me was the fact that the orchestra was located in an ideal community that was intelligent and cared about culture and, of course, history. The potential was all around to build, and I am a builder.”
Working with a solid foundation comprised of a group of exceptionally talented and passionate musicians, devoted board and staff members, and supportive patrons and volunteers, McPhee has expanded the Symphony’s programming, enabling the orchestra to reach new artistic heights. “Looking back over the past 10 years, I can think of many fabulous experiences,” says McPhee. “We have explored new music and old favorites; popular music and music from the movies. Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 was a milestone for the orchestra, the community, and for me personally. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Elgar’s Enigma Variations also stand out as personal favorites.”
Striving to find new ways to broaden the musical repertoire, McPhee has also worked with the Symphony to commission new classical compositions by contemporary composers. During the 2012–2013 season, the Symphony’s “3 for 300th” campaign led to the creation — and performance — of three new works by composers Sky Macklay, Michael Gandolfi, and John Tarrh in celebration of the town of Lexington’s 300th anniversary. McPhee has also nurtured collaborative relationships with other cultural organizations on behalf of the Symphony. In 2007, the Symphony presented a two-part multimedia concert series, Sight and Sound, which featured specially selected photographs from the Polaroid Collections. Other collaborations from the past decade include performances with New World Chorale, The Master Singers, and the Nashua Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. McPhee has also regularly engaged guest performers from near and far, the likes of which have included British violinist Ruth Palmer, Estonian pianist Diana Liiv, Boston-based pianist Max Levinson, soprano Dominique LaBelle, and numerous young, up-and-coming musicians from Lexington.
Programming directed at diverse audiences has been another area of focus for the Symphony and for McPhee, who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of educating young people about classical music. “One of the most fun experiences I’ve had with the Symphony was the first Holiday Pops concert for kids in 2009. We had no idea that adding a 4 p.m. Holiday Pops performance would draw an audience of kids under the age of six with their parents. It was so good to see so many young people at their first live orchestra concert! What an opportunity.” The Symphony also launched its award-winning educational outreach program for third and fourth graders, Orchestrating Kids Through Classics™, during McPhee’s tenure.
The important work McPhee has done on behalf of — and the positive impact has had on — Lexington Symphony isn’t lost on the organization, which hosted a surprise party for him on Monday, January 19 in celebration of his 10th anniversary with the orchestra. Held in Lexington at the home of board member Miyana Bovan, the event — planned by violinist Barbara Hughey and cellist Susan Griffith — was attended by members of the orchestra; past and current board members; Jonathan’s wife, Deborah; staff members, and volunteers. A commemorative book (created by Griffith) containing pictures and programs from the past 10 years, along with personal notes from musicians, board members, and others who have been involved with the orchestra, was presented to McPhee. “He is an inspiring conductor with a leadership style that encourages the highest level of performance and cooperation from all musicians, board members, and staff,” says Epp Sonin, the Symphony’s board president.
In the end, McPhee says the work he does as Lexington Symphony’s music director all boils down to one thing: the audience. “The audience is really special in Lexington, and they are critical to feeling satisfied with a well-played concert,” he explains. “An orchestra is a living, breathing thing, and the audience is what we live for. Our job is to inspire, entertain, and educate. Providing that balance in Lexington has been, and continues to be, exhilarating.”
For more information about Jonathan McPhee and his full schedule, visit his website: http://jonathanmcphee.com. For more information about the LSO, performance schedule details and subscription information see www.lexingtonsymphony.org.